Saturday 23 April 2011

how many petrol bombs?

I missed all the fun down at Stokes Croft, but Mal lives down there, and she spent some time last week holding a banner protesting against the new Tesco, outside the shop. And she got to talk with the security guards and to visit the squat opposite the store that was raided on the evening of the riot.

Her perspective is interesting, because it seems that the story of the 'petrol bombs' originated with the security guards, and the squat itself seemed rather less than a bomb factory, from her description. Which contrasts with the early media coverage of the riot, which claimed that petrol bombs had been thrown at the Tesco shop; and the Daily Mail's report, which reckons that "A hoard of petrol bombs were earlier recovered from a notorious squat opposite known locally as 'Telepathic Heights'

Here's the interview that Mal gave on BBC 5 Live

and here is a transcript of what Mal says

I’ve been protesting outside the new Tesco shop since Friday… I was getting increasingly puzzled at the amount of security that were there because we were just peacefully protesting; we weren’t a threat or a danger to Tesco at all.
And because I was there for different long periods, I was chatting to the security people and I discovered that two of the firms were employed by Tesco; one was from Cornwall and one was from London; and another third company were Geordie boys and they were very tough. They said that they weren’t at liberty to disclose – it was a London firm that employed them (edit: they were from Shergroup - see Tweet below - Dru)- but as you got chatting they said that they were specialists in evicting squats along the Thames.
And I thought as the days went past that their professionalism was not what I’d expect, because they kept referring to the people in the area as ‘street scum’ and said that if they lived where they came from they’d be smashed to bits -I’m actually quoting them- and I was a bit worried by this and I said “Smashed to bits by who then?” and one of the chaps said “By normal people” and I said “Who are normal people?” and he said, “Why, me”
“I left… I was the only one there, last night, with my placard, and as I was leaving I was looking at this enormous police presence that was amassing; it was a balmy summer evening, people were sitting outside cafes and bars drinking, and the security -a completely inappropriate amount of security –were focussing on the squat opposite.
. And the chap that had been describing the local people in such a derogatory way said “They’ve got petrol bombs in there” and I said, “I don’t think so!” –‘cause I’d been there over the four days and there were about four people in the building itself, and I hadn’t seen any evidence of any of that” and they reported it to the police who immediately responded with a huge over-the-top reaction, I believe. I don’t think it was about the Tesco protest at all; it’s a volatile area, richly diverse, and I think it was instigated for other reasons”.
postscript: 24 April 1400hrs. In response to tweets questioning the role of the security guards, I've just talked with Mal and asked her to clarify. She says that the security guard said to her "They've got petrol bombs over there!" at roughly 8:30pm; and the police arrived at about 9:00pm. The security guards said nothing about reporting anything to the police. But they were talking about petrol bombs before the police arrived.
Cllr Jon Rogers has tweeted me to say "From my briefings, it was an individual threat and police observation that led to
raid, not Tesco security guard." Given the quality of police statements and press reporting over the events of Thursday night, a sceptical response to such a briefing may be warranted.

Update 25th April 1030hrs further tweets from Cllr Jon Rogers:

"Alleged sighting reported at 16:15. Understand it was police that had spotted, but may have also been Tesco staff. "

"beat police on scene at 16:15, petrol bomb suspected, police plans made, 20:30 raid on squat."

"Police confirm police operation started at 21:15 not 20:30 as I had been briefed. "


What was the nature of the alleged sighting of a petrol bomb? A bottle seen across a street?

If a suspected petrol bomb was seen by the beat police, why did they withdraw rather than take action?

How was it that the Tesco security guards were talking about petrol bombs before the police operation began?

Given the size of the evening's police operation, including fully-equipped riot police from Wales, it seems reasonable to suppose that it had been some time in the planning. And serendipitous that the petrol bomb should have been sighted just before that operation swung into action, using that sighting as justification.

postscript: 10th May it was reported by Chris Chalkley, of PRSC, that he was told by the police that the petrol bomb claim was made by the Tesco security guards.


  1. Who are they kidding!? who on earth can afford to make petrol bombs with todays prices?

    Caroline xxx

  2. £1.43 per litre at Chieveley Services!

  3. How interesting Dru... I've been amazed at how the main media has been reporting this all as "petrol bombs and squatters" and that the anti-Tesco side had had very little publicity... let alone the strangeness of choice of timing for an "eviction"...

  4. £1.48 at Forton on the way south.

  5. To be fair, Caroline, by my reckoning the police could reasonably expect to end up working past midnight if they went into that area mob-handed on the evening preceding a Bank Holiday. And that would put them on double time plus time off in lieu. It makes far more sense than raiding the property early on a weekday morning when all self-respecting anarchists are fast asleep; it would all be over in next to not time. Hardly worth getting out of bed for.

    Interesting point about the price of petrol, too. I'm sure that there must be 'green' alternatives to petrol bombs. Not that I am advocating the use of bio-gas, for instance, farting into balloons and letting them drift towards the target with a fuse fizzing... for that would be incitement. And I wouldn't do that. In fact, don't try it at home either.

  6. No doubt a large slice of the tax paid on fuel goes to pay for the overtime! Surprised that they don't encourage the increased creative use of petrol to pat for their expensive holidays.

    Would have liked to respect the police but since they long ago showed that they preferred to harass me as a quiet long haired hippie type rather than the thugs who harassed me...

    Caroline xx

  7. I kinda figured there had to be a little more to all this than was being reported.

    We've got a similar Tesco in the pipeline, in a not entirely dissimilar part of town. Not popular either.

  8. Very interesting update, Dru: are those questions rhetorical, or have they been addressed to the Councillor or police?

    I wonder how you spot a potential petrol bomb from across the street? Even trickier!

  9. Similar experience, Caroline; I've always tried to be a good citizen, and yet I regularly found myself being treated as the enemy by the police- CND sticker on the van; looking hippyish; riding a motorbike.... shame, really.

    I think there's still a gulf between what happened and what was reported, Jenny. It is easy to be cynical and suggest that a whopping great lie was put out to start with, so that that version of the events would colour subsequent interpretations. But just because it's easy doesn't means we shouldn't...

    Just rhetorical so far, Charlie. I only put up this blog post because I thought that Mal's testimony was an important contribution to the mosaic of circumstantial facts. And it has been pretty widely read. We do what we can.

  10. Hi Dru, just to let you know I've linked to this from fnbristol. Thanks.

  11. YEA this is the truth but you dont organise welsh ,wiltshire police in a couple of hours ,it was planned and never explained .